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Heading into the 2021 season, it feels like most are down on the trajectory of the Steelers, and it stems from the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is 39 years old and the offensive line will have four new starters up front.
The lasting image of the Steelers 2020 season also plays a part, as they had an embarrassing loss to the Browns in the wild-card game at Heinz Field. In addition, they lost four of their last five regular-season games after starting the season 11-0.
Roethlisberger also looked worn down at the end of the season, but it certainly didn't help that the Steelers had no running game, finishing the season dead last in rushing yards per game.
The offensive line looked old and tired (which is why there are four new starters this year) and Randy Fichtner's play-calling was painfully predictable, which is why he was let go following the season, likewise for offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett.
Matt Canada was promoted to offensive coordinator this offseason, as was Adrain Klemm for the offensive line coach position. The Steelers also got their bell-cow running back that they've been craving for by selecting Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
So, the Steelers are doing everything they can to fix their ailing running game. But there's still just a lot of big question marks that have to be answered on offense. The biggest being how much does Roethlisberger have left? And can this new-look offensive line protect Roethlisberger and create holes for Harris to run through?
And then on the defensive side of the ball, they lost outside linebacker Bud Dupree and slot cornerback Mike Hilton in free agency, and cornerback Steven Nelson was released as a cap casualty. So, they have some questions on defense, as well. Can Alex Highsmith make a leap in Year 2? Can Cam Sutton be productive as the No. 2 cornerback? And who will emerge and take over Hilton's responsibilities at slot corner?
With all the questions surrounding the Steelers 2021 roster, Chris Roling of Bleacher Report believes that it's fitting that Steelers rank in the middle of the Super Bowl-odds pack at +4000, but at the same time, Roling thinks the Steelers shouldn't be overlooked.
"Yes, the wheels fell off down the stretch last season, as 11-0 turned into losses in four out of five games before a wild-card playoff loss. But, Ben Roethlisberger's further removed from the 2019 elbow reconstruction that hampered him last year (he still threw for 33 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions)," Roling wrote. "In addition, first-round running back Najee Harris is a Derrick Henry type capable of feasting while defenses try to contain targets Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who surprisingly returned amid a muted free-agent market.
"Defensively, Pittsburgh's depth chart still boasts best-in-league talent in T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, even after the losses of Bud Dupree and Steven Nelson. The real concern is the offensive line, which has been in a downswing for years and just lost David DeCastro. But if Big Ben's arm is right, a short passing attack and violent ground game can compensate for the weakness.
"Some big ifs are baked in here. But we're still talking about a team that hasn't been under .500 since 2003, and its list of accomplishments under Big Ben and head coach Mike Tomlin doesn't need an explanation. While the hype levels are low, would anyone really be shocked to see the Steelers start hot again and sprint to a double-digit win count?"